Friday, August 30, 2013

Vary Cool

After my trip to Dresden I turned right around and went to another great place.
On the western edge of Bohemia there is a spa town called Karloy Vary. At one time it was a destination for Germans, which makes perfect sense since it is really close to the border. That has changed and now the spa town is a destination for Russians. Lots and lots of Russians. So many in fact that most of the signs for stores and restaurants are written in azbuka. In the States we call it cyrillic but no one hear calls it that. 
I had been to this town before, but it was on a lark with some friends who were running a half marathon. The town was quite crowded with runners and many of the streets and shops were closed for the race so it wasn't a good representation of what the place is really like. Since I was not running in the race I wandered around a bit and decided that I would have to return when the place was a bit more "real."Plus, I had a Czech friend who had never been and she had some free time, so we went. 
It turns out many Czechs put a lot of stock in the healing qualities of various spas throughout the country. At the heart of it, the town appears to have been built around some hot springs. 
I can't really think of anywhere I've been in the States that is quite the same. Sure, I've been to some hot springs but never anywhere where a town is built around them.
These springs have even been certified by some government agency and I'm told doctors will prescribe a trip to a certain spa town to help with a particular ailment. Karlovy Vary is for digestive problems and a few other things I can't remember.
While there are dozens of springs around the town, there are 14 main ones and the deal is you buy a special vessel and walk from spring to spring drinking the iron-rich and sometimes naturally-carbonated water. The vessel is a ceramic mug with the handle doubling as a straw. 
The central spring is a geyser enclosed in a colonnade -- or at least what was once a colonnade. It's not really a column structure now. The original building may have been, but it was destroyed a few times and what stands there now is still called a colonnade. 
So, there is a geyser enclosed in this building and the thing spurts steaming, 70+ degree water skyward to heights around 12 meters at times. That's 70 degrees Celsius which is somewhere around hot Fahrenheit ejaculating 35 feet into the air. Why anyone would construct a building around such a thing is confusing to me, but whatever.

Karlovy Vary, geyser, main colonnade, Czech Republic
As you can see from this better-than-what-I've-done-before HDR image it's a geyser -- in a building. It doesn't always blast water to 35 feet, but there's a domed roof to accommodate it. 
Those crazy-looking devices in the back of the photo are there to blow off carbon dioxide before the water reaches some other springs in the colonnade. While I've seen people doing it, I don't think trying to fill your drinking vessel from this thing is a wise idea. Add this to the list of things that would never fly in the US. Allowing Americans to get anywhere near something launching water the temperature of scaling-hot coffee 35 feet in the air would just be begging for a series of tort actions. There would be law offices outside with ambulance-chasing attorneys salivating on themselves. 
Karlovy Vary, geyser, main colonnade, Czech Republic

So, here is a detail of the CO2 orby capturey thingies. I know, it's technical talk, but I don't know what else to call them. They also serve to heat the room quite well. 
So, as I discovered on a very-interesting tour of the bowels of the colonnade, the hot water from this main spring is pumped all over town to commercial spas and resorts, like the famous Hotel Thermal.

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, Hotel Thermal

The Hotel Thermal is the completely out-of-place building on the right of this strangely-stitched together panoramic photo. It's famous, but probably not the most famous one in town. If you've seen the Bond film Casino Royale then you've seen the Pupp Hotel in Karlovy Vary. I didn't photograph it, do a Google search. Incidentally, a small beer at the Pupp will cost you 100kc, ouch.
Anyway, as you can see the architecture is pretty interesting and the way buildings are set among the hills surrounding the town is impressive. 

The buildings are stuck right along the river, which must make things complicated if there is a flood. There are also grand colonnades, actual ones, with springs in them as well as gazebos with springs as well.
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

It's a spring in a colonnade. You can't really wax to poetic about it. As my Spanish-speaking friends will tell you "es o si que es" it is what it is. I will say it is pretty impressive to walk though this massive structure that really has no other purpose than to contain these springs. 
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

The gazebo style spring is much more my style. There's a nice place to sit and enjoy your health-restoring water. 

Or you can just relax right by the spring if you want. The literature you get at the tourist info place suggests you don't sit down though, but rather you drink the water while you walk from one spring to the next. It also tells you not to dump the water you don't drink upon the local fauna. I messed that one up. Each spring tastes different and some of them are pretty gross.
And it's pretty common to sit and relax while you're drinking the stuff. Like these Russian ladies outside the grand colonnade.

I have to admit, I thought people like this only existed in American movies. This really shocked me. I had to try hard not to stare. Clearly my amazement didn't stop me from taking a photo. This was even more amazing than the first time I saw a hairy-chested Italian man wearing a half-zipped track suit and gold chains driving a Camaro. Cпасибо ladies.

This is the wooden colonnade. I liked it better than the big concrete job, but there is only one spring in it and other than the ridiculously-good wood work there isn't much to say about it. Hey, it's time for another panoramic photo.

There are some paths up on the hills around town and it's a great place to walk and take in the great view of the place. I never found a vantage point for a truly epic pano of the place. I did discover that the town puts a lot of stock in facades though. As I was walking back down off the hill I walked passed a building that was pretty beat up with bars on the windows. Upon walking around to the front of the building, which is across the street from the library, I saw that it was painted and looked fairly descent. From the back it looked like an old abandoned city jail. The front showed signs that is had been some sort of government building, but I have no idea what. I have a friend from Karlovy Vary and she knows the building, but not what it used to be.

Also, once you get away from the main drag you will see more of the Kentucky-style satellite dish placement. I really wonder if pigeons screw with signal reception.

 This is just a random fun photo I took outside the central geyser building. No reason for it I just liked the composition.
Under the central geyser building there are some control pipes valves for all the springs in town. Evidently they drilled some wells and can somehow control how much pressure forces the water up from the ground. There is also a facility where they do something called stone casting.
What they do is make a form out of paper or some other material and place it under flowing water from the spring. After about a week the minerals in the water solidify and create a stone version of your form. Like with these Becherovka bottles.

Still want to drink the stuff? Me either, it gets better. Evidently they have been stone casting for something like 600 years and the rose is the most famous thing they make.

This is where they do the stone casting and control the pressure. It's really a kind of museum showing the stuff. Notice the mineral deposits. There are stalagmites in here that are quite large, but didn't take the requisite million years to form. More like 60 years or so. Reason two not to drink the stuff.
Then you have this:

This is an iron pipe that used to carry the water to the various commercial spas. Once again, we're not talking about a hundred years or so of gunk but perhaps a few decades. Don't get me wrong, I drank the water and it didn't kill me. It didn't make me feel any better either. All I really got out of drinking the water is a snazzy mug that I'll probably send to my niece as a gift. 
So, Karlovy Vary really is a beautiful town know for it's spas, hotels, colonnades, Russians, stone casting and health-giving water. There are a few other famous things about this town like the fact the Mozart's son is buried there and of course Becherovka.
Becherovka, the ch is pronounced huh, is a spirit that tastes like Christmas. It's a bit cinnamon schnapps, but thinner and herbier. The other famous thing about this place, and probably the best is the oplatka or spa wafer. If you go, don't be a sucker and buy wafers from some stand outside the main colonnade. Turns out the only place to get real-deal oplatky is in the main building. They use water from that central spring in the recipe and all the other ones are not made with this water. Also, a stand will charge you something like 35kc for one oplatka that is a fake while the bonafide article is only 9kc.   
It's a great place. I'm glad I went back. And it's only two hours from Prague. 

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